Jeff Vallee is a New York based photographer and author of the blog We’re Really Doing It. Together with his best friend and professional skateboarder Heath Kirchart, they document an annual epic undertaking. Whether they are biking from LA to NY, scaling El Capitan in Yosemite, or floating to Mexico, they put themselves into situations that they have “no business doing and jump in head first.”
Can you tell us the story behind We’re Really Doing It?
The story? The story behind the name is that is what Heath used to yell a long time ago when we were doing something we needed to get psyched up for. It comes from the movie Dumb and Dumber.
As far as the We’re Really Doing It trips, those started because Heath sent me a one sentence email several years ago that only said “Wanna ride a bicycle from LA to NYC?” Ever since then we’ve come up with a new trip once a year or so that usually is made up of something we know very little about.
Where did you meet Heath Kirchart?
I met Heath in Europe in 1997. I was tagging along with my friend Dan Rogers who was a pro skater at the time on the skate contest series that used to happen in Muenster, London, and Prague every year. We were both about eighteen. And as ridiculous as it sounds, when we came back I started playing tennis with him. It was a tennis phase, one of maybe 100 phases that have happened since.
The story behind the name is that is what Heath used to yell a long time ago when we were doing something we needed to get psyched up for. It comes from the movie Dumb and Dumber.
It seems like so many photographers have a skateboarding background. What’s the connection there?
I don’t think there is any connection with me. I just happened to go to a high school with very few art classes, but they had a photo lab. Saying that though, it wasn’t high school that really solidified it for me because I didn’t pick up a camera with any real intention until I was thirty. When I heard that the late great Bob Richardson didn’t start until he was thirty as well, it gave me a little bit of comfort. So many photographers are really talented already in their early twenties these days.
How do your friends and family let you get away with these crazy adventures?
I think they know there’s no sense in trying to talk us out of them. I had people try and talk me out of the bike one, but after that they all seemed to just express concern, no one really threw down any ultimatums. But that may change now that we almost killed ourselves on the last one. That one was a game changer.
What keeps you going during the most difficult parts of your trip?
I guess the biggest thing is that we’re both pretty stubborn and don’t like quitting. And I think that we both realize from so many years of traveling that great memories are sometimes made while you’re miserable or suffering. Not all the time, but if you stick out the hard parts there’s usually some reward in there through a new experience. And that’s what the main motivator behind all these trips is, the goal of experiencing something truly unique, which is harder and harder to come by as your life goes on.
Are you constantly aware of your blog and documentation? Is it hard to stay in the moment while traveling?
The blog is probably the greatest inhibitor to me enjoying the trips while I’m in it. That sounds harsh, but it takes a lot of energy, waiting, and planning to shoot and document these things. The payoff though is that I really like the storytelling aspect when I get back. I like sharing what we went through and what we were thinking as we were scared shitless.
What’s one of the highlights of your trips with Heath?
The main highlight was the whole raft trip. Those fifteen days were fucking amazing. I highly recommend everyone enter the lottery to raft the Grand Canyon on your own. Of course, you should take a qualified oarsman, but once you do you’ll be rewarded.